Sunday, May 06, 2007

oysters, coffee, and wine


What is so special about the oyster? Why do we delight so much in that shot of salty, chewy, sliminess that's gone with a single slurp? Why are so many restaurants east and west eagerly building raw bars and one-upping each other's oyster tasting programs?

Oysters are the perfect foodie food, because every oyster tells a story about the place from which it came, just like every coffee bean, and every grape. As I see it, Kyushu is to the Kumamoto oyster as Colombia is to café au lait as Côte-d’Or is to pinot noir. These are foods that take you places. Whether you choose to eat globally or locally (equally trendy, of course), it is possible to determine exactly what it is about that place that gave that particular morsel or drop its unique flavor and taste characteristics – be it the volcanic soil or cool breezes, calm tidal patterns or heavy water salinity.

Back in Boston, my favorite B&G Oyster House (Barbara Lynch’s restaurant in the South End) had a list of maybe 40 varieties of oysters, at least 12 of which were available, fresh, at any given time of day. I have whiled away hours at that bar, contemplating the differences between PE Island…Nantucket…Chesapeake bay (and perhaps throwing in a friendly New Zealand vs. California with that second glass of sauvignon blanc).

On Saturday morning, as we waited for a table at Rick and Ann’s, cowboy and I wandered next door to Peet’s, where I indulged in a tasting of two single-origin coffees that are a part of their current Anniversary Blend (Papua New Guinea and Rwanda). As I learned from Peet's friendly tasting guy, the most serious of customers have all refined their own personal blends of coffee beans - 20% Costa Rica…8% Sumatra…etc.

In the afternoon we headed out to Tomales Bay on Point Reyes, where our friendly oyster guy handed us a fishing net with 50 oysters, pulled fresh from the water. (An intelligent business person had developed a rather clever pricing structure - buy your oysters by the dozen, or by the 50-oyster bag. Obviously, any shrewd oyster lover would be unable to resist the fantastic deal of the 50-oyster bag.)

Armed with 50 oysters; limes, lemons, and cocktail sauce from my dear Berkeley Bowl; a loaf of pumpernickle-raisin bread from the Berkeley Bread Garden; and a bottle of Gloria Ferrer's Blanc de Noirs (Sonoma)…we drove along the Pacific surf to Drake's Beach, and started shucking our way to a very satisfying taste of California.